JOHN SHATTUCK: Good evening and welcome to the John F. Kennedy Library. I’m John Shattuck, the CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and on behalf of myself, our Library Director, Tom Putnam, and all of our colleagues here at the Kennedy Library, I’m delighted to welcome you at this very, very special occasion. Tonight we’re using the occasion of President Kennedy’s upcoming ninetieth birthday to reflect on the era he helped shape and look back at the second half of the 20th century, and it’s going to be a thrilling ride.
Before introducing tonight’s discussion, I want to first thank the institutions that make these forums possible, starting with our lead sponsor, Bank of America. We’re also grateful to the Boston Foundation, Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, and our media sponsors, the Boston Globe, NECN, and WBUR, which broadcasts all Kennedy Library forums on Sunday evenings at 8:00.
Pundits as diverse as Henry Luce and Hunter Thompson have branded the years 1900-2000 as the American Century. During that time, the U.S. helped win two world wars and a cold war, carried out a civil rights revolution and a revolution in science and technology, pulled the world back from the brink of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and put a man on the moon at the end of the 1960s. The first American president born after 1900 was John F. Kennedy and both chronologically and politically, President Kennedy was at the center of the American Century. In a 1999 poll taken by USA Today, Kennedy ranked third, behind Mother Theresa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as the person Americans most admired in the 20th Century. An ABC News poll taken the same year showed that Americans considered the exploration of space, launched during the Kennedy years, to be the single greatest technical achievement of the 20th century. Another poll ranked Kennedy’s inaugural address as the second best oration of the century, behind Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. To remind ourselves again why President Kennedy captured the hopes and aspirations of so many Americans and people around the globe, let’s listen to the challenges he made to the nation and the world on that cold January day in 1961.
[AUDIO - JOHN F. KENNEDY]: “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today, at home and around the world. … Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need, not as a call to battle, though in battle we are, but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, north and south, east and west, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort? … And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
These words reached the ears of Daniel Schorr in Bonn. Dan was on the front lines of the Cold War as the CBS Bureau Chief for Germany and Eastern Europe. He covered the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and 1962, the building of the Berlin Wall and Kennedy’s famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech, which became a major marker of the U.S./Soviet Cold War tensions. After serving as an Army Intelligence Officer during World War II, Dan became a foreign correspondent, first for the Christian Science Monitor, then for the New York Times and finally for CBS News. He conducted the first ever exclusive television interview with a Soviet leader in 1957 when he interviewed Nikita Krushchev in his Kremlin office on “Face the Nation.” Dan’s repeated defiance of Soviet censorship landed him in trouble with the KBG, and he was barred from the Soviet Union at the end of 1957.
Daniel Schorr is a legendary reporter whose stories have literally shaped the way Americans have looked at major events over the last 60 years. His coverage of Watergate, for example, earned him three Emmy awards, as well as a position on Richard Nixon’s enemies list and a White House order that the FBI investigate him, an abuse of power featured in the bill of impeachment on which Nixon would have been tried had he not resigned his presidency. Today, we all know Dan for his trenchant commentaries on National Public Radio. And in his 2001 memoir, Stay Tuned: A Life in Journalism, he tells his story of reporting in the 20th Century in riveting detail. We salute you, Dan, for your many awards, for sharing your birth year with John F. Kennedy and above all, for your honesty and directness in reporting the world the way you’ve seen it for the past six decades.
Jill Ker Conway is one of our nation’s most thoughtful and revered educators and historians. During her tenure as the first woman president of Smith College from 1975 to 1985, she helped transform American higher education by creating academic programs in line with the new realities in women’s lives. Born on a remote Australian sheep farm, Jill was seven before she encountered another girl child, and she lived in the Australian outback until she was eleven. After the death of her father, she moved with her mother and her brothers to the seaport of Sydney, where she was educated and went to university. In 1960, she emigrated to the United States and completed her Ph.D. in History at Harvard in 1969, and as an historian, she became a specialist in American social and intellectual history and the history of American women, teaching at the University of Toronto, Smith College and, most recently, at MIT.
Jill is the author of a moving autobiography, The Road from Coorain, which describes her personal odyssey from Australia to America and True North, which continues her journey to the presidency of Smith College. She’s also the author of many other books, including Modern Feminism and Intellectual History: Written by Herself, an anthology of the changing status of women throughout history; Women Reformers in American Culture: The Politics of Women’s Education; and The Female Experience in 18th and 19th Century America, A Guide to the History of American Women. The Kennedy Library Foundation is honored to count Jill Ker Conway as a member of our Board of Directors and the distinguished chair of our Development Committee, and we welcome you back, Jill, to the stage of the Kennedy Library.
Our third panelist, Tony Lewis, has perhaps done more than any other commentator to illuminate the struggle in the second half of the 20th century to defend and support the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. From the civil rights movement of the 1960s to the civil liberties battles of the 1970s and ‘80s, the human rights revolution of the 1990s, and now the backlash of the 21st century, Tony has helped us understand the legal, political, and human issues at stake and has inspired us to defend our basic values. He began his career with the New York Times in 1948, winning the first of two Pulitzer Prizes in 1955 for a series of stories in the Washington Daily News about the danger to civil liberties of the federal Loyalty Security Program and the way it was administered by the U.S. Navy. From 1955 to 1964, he reported from Washington for the New York Times on the Department of Justice and the government’s handling of the civil rights movement. He won his second Pulitzer Prize in 1963 for his coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court. Tony served as London Bureau Chief for the Times from 1964 to 1969 and then for more than thirty years wrote his famous award-winning column for the Times that became the benchmark for thoughtful commentary on American law and politics. His book, Gideon’s Trumpet, on the right of an indigent defendant to be represented by a lawyer is one of the great classics of legal literature, as is his study of the First Amendment, Make No Law, and his book describing the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, Portrait of a Decade. Tony, we welcome you back to the stage of the Kennedy Library.
To guide our discussion this evening, we’re fortunate to have Scott Simon as our moderator. We all know Scott for his insights and thoughtfulness as the award-winning host of National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday. Since joining NPR in 1977, Scott has reported from all fifty states, covered seven presidential campaigns and corresponded on eight wars, and lived to tell the tale. He’s reported from Cuba on the nation’s resistance to change; from Ethiopia on the country’s famine; from the Middle East during the Gulf War; and. from the siege of Sarajevo and the destruction of Kosovo. Among his many awards, Scott has received the Overseas Press Club Award for his coverage of September 11th, the Peabody Award for his weekly radio essays, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for his coverage of racism in a South Philadelphia neighborhood. He’s the author of a number of books, including Home and Away: Memoir of a Fan, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball, and a novel, Pretty Birds. So please join me again in welcoming to the stage of the Kennedy Library Daniel Schorr, Jill Ker Conway, Tony Lewis, and Scott Simon. Over to you, Scott.
SCOTT SIMON: I’m definitely the junior partner in this crowd in all ways. And I think, perhaps to take a cue from President Kennedy, it might be best to introduce me as the man who accompanied Daniel Schorr to Boston.
It’s startling once again to see this picture of President Kennedy accepting the oath of office and addressing the American people as President for the first time. I was inevitably reminded of the fact, I was very young at the time, but I do believe between something like the ages of seven to twelve, I spoke with a Boston accent. And I did not stand out because of it. I think you’ll find a lot of us at that age spoke with a Boston accent. Such was the power of President Kennedy.
We have such a distinguished group, I won’t waste much more time but simply get some questions. Dan, can I begin with you? I’m accustomed to that. And maybe if each of you could tell us, in turn, of the things you remember of growing up in the 20th century that are gone now, that we could stand to remember.
DANIEL SCHORR: First, let me say that this extravagant introduction of me leaves me almost, ALMOST speechless. An ego rally, though. I’ve been trying to figure out how one responds in the first place to that lavish praise. I am reminded of one who does it awfully well, and that’s Henry Kissinger who when he received the Nobel Peace Prize was a guest at a huge reception at the State Department, and a woman walked up to him and took his hand in her two hands and said, “Mr. Secretary, I simply wanted to thank you for saving the world.” And he looked back at her and said, “You’re welcome.” [laughter]
To encompass a century, although the century now is almost entirely mined, if you’re 90 years old you really have come to terms with a century and it’s something of a challenge to try to say in those 90 years in this century what typifies it. And the first thing that occurs to me that typifies the century is that people have found different ways of talking to each other, and not only for the better. I happened to see the first experiment in television. I attended the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and RCA had an exhibit there in which there was a camera standing there and people around it, and if you stood in front of the camera, then your friend or girlfriend, whoever, a hundred feet away, could see in a monitor a picture of you. That was the first I ever saw of television. I thought at the time, “This is interesting, probably will be pretty cute as a toy of some kind,” totally underestimating what television would do to our country.
Now that I’ve learned that what television has done, among other things, is to change the whole way we encompass what used to be called the reality of this world. That is to say, I watch younger reporters writing, reporting today. Occasionally there is something missing. That something that’s missing is something we used to call reality. Television has turned communications more or less into a way of seeing beyond what we’d call real things or real information. In the past couple of years you may have noticed that a couple of reporters have gotten into trouble by faking stories, hoaxes to an extent that I never saw before. I mean culminating in Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter, who kept feeding stories every week and they were phony, they were fake. The Republic, for a year or two, had a series of stories by a reporter who made them up.
Now what makes you think that you can make up something? What’s happened to us? And it strikes me that one thing that has happened to us is that we’ve grown up in this age of television. In the age of television, things aren’t the way they used to be any more. And it’s hard to tell how they are. It also, I think, has made us -- I don’t know how even to put it, but television has made us want to run away from reality and find some consolation in something which we will call “kind of” reality. And what that’s done, I think, is to make a different generation of leaders.
The other day, as it happened, I was listening on C-SPAN and they were playing the Nixon-Kennedy Debates of 1960, which I knew very well at the time, but it all came back to me. What came back to me was Kennedy and yes, Nixon, both of them spoke with an understanding of the language, an understanding of the facts that’s hardly present today among our leaders. Our leaders today will learn from those who teach such things, how to present themselves. They’ll tell them how to tell little stories that will make them look good and so on, and we’ve kind of lost the sense of the days in the 20th century of Churchill and people like that.
Let me tell you in passing two stories, both of which I think couldn’t happen the same way today. They both are my favorite stories, both of working in the Soviet Union and of working in the United States. Soviet Union: there was this fellow named Nikita Sergeyevich Krushchev, something of a peasant, roughneck, intelligent at the same time, and somebody you thought you had to deal with because they never knew what he would do or say next. 1956 -- let me be complete -- 1956, in the summer, they were getting ready to fight a war to liberate the Suez Canal -- Britain, France, Israel were going to -- and the Soviet Union warned that there would be trouble, and they might send troops to Egypt if that happened. And with all of that comes October, Krushchev comes back from vacation. There are rumors going around that there are going to be some troops being sent by the Soviet Union or maybe worse. The Soviets have a nuclear bomb and God knows what they will do under these conditions. And I saw Krushchev, whom I used to see mainly at diplomatic receptions, arrive and pick up a glass of champagne. He offered me a glass of champagne, and I asked him how his vacation had been. He told me he’d been hunting and all the rest of it. Finally I said, “Mr. Krushchev, let me ask you something. Do you think that I could go hunting down in the Crimea? He said, “Of course, why not!” and began to motion to somebody to arrange a trip for me. I said, “No, but there’s a problem that I have. Indeed maybe you can help me with my problem. “Yes, of course,” he said. “What is your problem?” “Actually, I was leaving on vacation tomorrow, and my capitalistic bosses back in New York, CBS, have told me I may not go on vacation because of a lot of rumors that there’s going to be an emergency meeting of the Central Committee, and I don’t know what to tell them because nobody will tell me.” “You want to go on vacation when?” “Tomorrow.” “And for how long?” “Two weeks.” “And you are afraid that in those two weeks you may miss a meeting of our Central Committee?” “Yes, exactly right.” He says, “Sure, you can go. I think it’s all right. If absolutely necessary, we’ll have the meeting without you.” And now you get Putin. You don’t get people like that any more.
And then there is the other one who is a man who has put his mark on my career, and that is Nixon. I look back on that as one of the more fascinating periods for me in the 20th century. And it was like this: Nixon didn’t like some of our reporting. That’s all right, lots of people don’t. Nixon didn’t like some of my reporting, and I learned through Bob Haldemann, his secretary, what he wanted to do was to get the FBI to investigate me and come up with something nasty about me. They handled it badly, with the result that the FBI didn’t know what kind of an investigation was being asked for, and so they sent people all over the country, including even to my home, to interview me. And when we found out what this was, it turned out that there had been missed signals between the White House and the FBI. And so they got together and they had their meeting to find out, well, how do we handle this? And finally they decided, well, why don’t we say that he was under consideration for some job and we had to do a check on him. We should have done it before, but there was a mistake, you know, something like that. What else can we say? The Washington Post broke the story that Nixon orders investigation of a CBS correspondent and waits to see what will happen. Well, no one believed it, and when the time came to investigate Nixon for possible impeachment, in the end they drew up a list of impeachment articles, three articles. Article Two was abuse of presidential power and under it they listed “unwarranted FBI investigation of CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr.” There I was for a little piece of history. Well, as you know, Nixon resigned, was pardoned; they like pardons at the White House.
Time passed. Twenty years later Nixon now had written several books, was trying to rehabilitate himself, and twenty years later I was at a dinner where Nixon was the main speaker. And when the dinner was over, we asked and responded to questions. I could not resist going up to him and saying, “Mr. Nixon, you may not remember me, but…” He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Sure, Dan, sure. We hired you once.” [laughter]
Let me say that neither in the Soviet leader of Russia nor in this country do we have that type any more. I suspect that what has happened is that as we enter into this new century, this century has bred a new kind of person who isn’t as interesting as the old one was, and now you find, if you want to find something unusual and interesting, something where nobody censors it, you go to the internet. That is where something new and different is happening in the 21st century.
Let me stop there so I can hear my friends.
SCOTT SIMON: Jill, let me try and strike off on that and turn to you from the singular experience. I know Mr. Shattuck said that you had grown up in a remote sheep ranch in Australia. It occurs to me if you’re a sheep in Australia, Sydney is a remote human settlement. Nothing remote about that place to the sheep, I should think, right? That was home. And particularly as Dan wound up his beginning to talk about the quality of communication, because no place, really, is remote from a certain point of view today. I’ve been on top of the Hindu Cush talking on a satellite phone back to people in the United States instantaneously.
JILL KER CONWAY: Well, as Dan was speaking and as Scott asked us to talk about the things we remember growing up in the 20th century that it would be good to recall today, I recall two extraordinary things, and they both have to do, in part, with the kind of attention you give to events in the world if communication is difficult and you must pay attention.
So I was a child, living in this very remote part of Australia during the years that the United Nations was being created. And one of the things that we could hear around 7:00 in the evening was the debates going on in San Francisco about the charter for the United Nations. And in order to understand the impact of listening to those events, you have to understand that I’m the child of somebody who was an infantryman in France in the 1914-18 war, and all around us lived others who were veterans of that war. So we paid particular attention to both the radio and the print media that brought us information about the war and its progress, but then about the peace. And, of course, for a child of a soldier and somebody who’d grown up with people who had suffered very severe wounds and so forth in the First World War and then watched the young people from my part of the outback who never returned from the Second, the debates in San Francisco symbolized something absolutely unbelievable, because, of course, we were all used to thinking about an international order in which you took for granted or dreaded the millions of dead in 1914-18. And then, of course, we were beginning to learn the total of the more than 40 million who lost their lives in 1939-45. So those deliberations, which represented the hope and the dream of creating another kind of international order, were absolutely transforming events for a child in this remote area. It was very hard to hear. You had to crane over the radio with your ear close to the speaker to catch it through the static, but you could hear it. And I think, as we look around our world today, not only do we not have the statesmen who have the vision, the education, the sense of commitment to the rule of law and to negotiating international conflict, we don’t have, I believe, any longer a citizenry that really is passionately committed to working for that kind of world. So we may think about the 20th century as a century in which there was incredible violence, terrible international conflict, a cold war of a balance of terror. But on the other hand, those experiences led to the creation of institutions I believe we should remember and perhaps try again to create an intense commitment to, because without them we face a future of violence and international conflict that I believe will make the 21st century even worse than the 20th.
So that’s one story of communication. Another one which I’d like to transmit to you just to think about -- during the Second World War, the mail came to our little remote sheep station twice a week. So we got three days of newspapers one day and four the other. And we had no gasoline because Australia at that time hadn’t discovered its oil reserves. The Japanese controlled the Pacific and there was no way to import gasoline, so we had gone back to horse and buggy days. My job was to read to my father the reports of the battles of the Second World War. He thought he was teaching me geography. He would make me look at the maps of the contending forces and describe the topography and the geography and so forth. And now, of course, as Scott says, everybody sees those maps instantaneously, and they are there in the conflict. But I don’t believe that the visual communication of those events now reaches us the way the old print media did, because we’ve become hardened to seeing violence in a way that people had not, except those who had been soldiers in my childhood.
SCOTT SIMON: Let me turn now to Tony Lewis, from whom those of us who’ve read him over the years have learned so much and continue to learn from him. I should add, by the way, in about 20 minutes we’re going to invite your questions. You might begin formulating them now. There are microphones that are placed out in the audience, and Tony, I know you thoughtfully have some ad libs that you’ve scrawled down in advance, which are good, so I want you to have a chance to deliver them, but if we could also try and strike off from something that Jill mentioned and Dan, I think, prefaced as well. There’re so many extraordinary ways of communicating, personally as well as corporately and publicly these days that we have just simply incorporated into our lives. There are extraordinary events that are learned in real time by hundreds of millions, billions of people within the same timeframe, and yet some people would make the argument there is less and less consciousness of some of the import and impact of those events then, for example, Jill, you seemed to have felt during the Second World War. Among your thoughts, Tony, if you had any that went along those lines.
ANTHONY LEWIS: Well, I’ve been listening to Dan and to Jill and watching that film and, of course, it brought lots of things to mind. I was at the Capitol when Kennedy spoke. I remember the day very well: cold, as John said. I wish in a way you’d included in the film what I think is the best line in the speech, which is very little remembered, if at all, which is the last line: “Asking his blessing, but knowing that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” I actually find it hard to say that without feeling the loss of Kennedy and the loss of respect for presidents, and the loss of hope. I don’t want to be gloomy, but it’s not a very hopeful time today, is it?
I’d go back farther, because I think communication -- you said Scott, it used to come from within political leaders, and we felt that. I remember listening -- I was old enough -- to the last speech of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 campaign for re-election. As was the habit then of Democratic candidates, the final speech of the campaign was given in the Boston Garden. He had spent the day -- he was, of course, very ill, though none of us knew how ill -- traveling through New England in a touring car, an open car, with no roof, wrapped up in a cape in the pouring rain. And he came into the Boston Garden and said his first words to that crowd, “I’ve had a glorious day here in New England.” You know, it wasn’t the message, it was just the sense of this man who could convey joy and power and hope.
Well we’re supposed to talk about the 20th century, so I want to say a couple of things about that. I mean the best way to say it is the way Dickens said it: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the century in which we began, at last, a very delayed last, to deal with racial discrimination in this country. It was the century which somebody, John, perhaps, just said earlier, in which we began to end discrimination against women. It was a century at the very end in which we just began slowly and with some accumulation to deal with discrimination on account of sexual orientation. I’m talking about our country.
And, of course, there are many other good things that happened. Medicine, the huge increase in lifespan – really, the first real medicine in history, the first medicine that amounted to anything. Wealth unexampled, and so on. And yet we know that it was also the century of Hitler and Stalin. It was, as Hannah Arendt said, this terrible century. It was a terrible century. And in the end, that, I’m afraid, dominates the story for me. Not to be gloomy, but I don’t think you can look at the 20th century without feeling that it exposed the worst of humanity, the worst of human beings in many respects, and not just Hitler and Stalin. I mean, they were dreadful on a giant scale, but there were all kinds of smaller, brutal tyrannies. And the other thing that happened, and I think this is very important to me and I suspect to most of us, is that there was a certain sense of what this country was about, a sense in which I still believe, but it was overcome by awareness of very bad aspects of American history and of American present. It was the century in which we overthrew a government of Iran, a democratically elected government of Iran with terrible consequences; a century in which we overthrew an elected government of Guatemala, with thirty years of pillage and ruin and murder and horror for that country following; it was a century in which we perhaps conspired in, but at least allowed, the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Chile, with murderous results.
We know that that’s possible, we know that it can happen here and we’re living now, today, not in the 20th century but we’re living in the 21st century with a government that tortures people and holds them prisoner without trial and without proper charges and with no hope of any proper hearing. And that’s being done in our name. I don’t want to make a political speech, but I think Dan used the word “citizens.” It struck me when he said it – citizens -- because all these things speak for us. You know, when the United States government tortures people, they’re doing it in our name and that’s the way the world sees it.
So maybe one last not-very-cheerful thing to say -- my wife is grimacing there -- I’m a great believer in this country and particularly in its political system, which I think of as the Madisonian system. James Madison had this notion that we could have a country, a democracy, a republic as he would have called it, that would last because it had institutions that would check each other. We had three branches of the government that if one overreached and abused power, the others would correct it, and in the end there would be the press that would correct it. Well, we’ve lived through a period in which there were terrible abuses of power, and in which a flabby, indeed enthusiastic Congress did exactly nothing to check those abuses of power in which the judiciary was, if not exactly somnolent, it was very slow to respond and which the press was somnolent, for years, for four or five years. Jill is nodding. I’d be interested in Dan’s reaction to that.
Maybe we’re coming out of that now. And I still believe in the system, I still think this is a wonderful country, the best on earth, but it says something about human beings that the bad things that happened in the 20th century happened, and that bad things are still happening.
SCOTT SIMON: Let me follow up a bit with you, Tony, if I could, not despite, but in fact because we’re at the John F. Kennedy Library and recognizing the important non-partisan nature of this Library as a scholarly institution. You spoke with great affection, I think certainly for John F. Kennedy and for Franklin Roosevelt. There are scholars who would point out that the foreign policy that you mentioned was not markedly different necessarily during those two administrations, that both the Roosevelt and Kennedy administrations authorized foreign intrusions and tried to overthrow regimes. If the Bay of Pigs had worked out differently, it might have been overthrown. I just feel compelled to point that out.
ANTHONY LEWIS: Fair enough. Well, Roosevelt was responding to the most serious …
SCOTT SIMON: I was thinking of Somosa. “He might be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch,” once said of Anastasio Somosa, the dictator of Nicaragua.
ANTHONY LEWIS: True, but after all, Roosevelt’s main place in history on the foreign side is the attempt to rouse this country to resist Hitler, a very difficult operation. I mean, the draft was extended in 1940 by a single vote in the House of Representatives. It was not easy for Roosevelt to rouse this country to resist Hitler.
But you’re quite right about Kennedy. What’s the tragedy of Kennedy is exactly that, after three years as president, he understood the very things that we’re talking about. He gave a speech at American University that was a speech about peace, and I’m sure Dan remembers that, Jill will remember that. And he gave two great speeches in his last year on themes that he hadn’t understood before: one, the necessity for peace, that there’s no escape from the need for peace; and, two, civil rights, his speech about civil rights in June of that year. Because he hadn’t been a great believer in that subject. It was his brother, the Attorney General, who believed in it. But then he saw what was necessary and he said it, and so he learned. And maybe we want presidents who can learn something; that would be good.
SCOTT SIMON: Let me turn to each of our panelists and ask, since a lot of what we’re talking about seems to be the quality of leadership, I must say, in the United States and perhaps beyond, if there is a figure or one or two figures whom you think in the history of the 20th century may have been relatively overlooked. I’m going to try and avoid the obvious names and say if we could, say not a chief of state, perhaps not a Nobel laureate, not someone for whom we have a national holiday, but people who might have been overlooked who nonetheless were absolutely intrinsic to making the 20th century what it was and influencing our lives today.
Everyone seems to be looking at you, Dan.
DANIEL SCHORR: I was hoping not to have to respond to that question, in part because I would have to reveal my innate pessimism. There used to be a time when people shared the responsibility for parts of the world, and now, as you watch the way the environmental game plays out, you begin to say, it is possible that we may lose large parts of the world and it’s not possible, apparently, for people to come together in order to make that not happen. And when it comes to war, I just have to say Iraq. There we are again in a mindless, mad chase into a country, and every day hundreds of people being killed, and we don’t know yet for what. So I hope I could get away with telling you two jokes, but I guess not.
JILL KER CONWAY: I suppose that I think some of the figures of the 20th century in this country who are overlooked or forgotten or thought of as sort of old hat today, are some of the great leaders of the Progressive Party in the 1890s and early part of the 20th century, people who were silenced pretty much by the Great Depression and who as a generation faded out from positions of leadership after the Second World War. But I’m thinking about the great women leaders who created what was called the Settlement Movement and tried to find a way to bring affluent, well-educated Americans together with immigrant communities and who actually created their settlements to live in the slums. Jane Addams is a good example, but there are many others -- Lillian Wald in New York, a wonderful group of people here in Boston who founded one of the earliest settlement houses. There people’s work was transformed into the discipline of social work, and they felt as that happened that their message had been lost, because their way of dealing with poverty and with people who suffered from lack of understanding of their environment were disoriented as immigrants, were now being, their word for it was “processed,” and that their feeling that in a democratic society you lived with and shared the life of poor people and the disabled and so forth, had been replaced by a bureaucratic system in which the feelings were left out.
So Jane Addams actually did win a Nobel Prize, so I didn’t quite comply with Scott’s rule, but those progressive reformers who saw three things about the country: that the development of its industrial cities and its industrial production had the capacity to create a lower class that was dispossessed of many of the benefits of society. They saw that as a challenge, and they devoted their lives to trying to figure out how to make a democratic society not acquiesce in that. The second thing they saw was that Americans of their class and education -- they were all college educated folk -- appropriated being American to themselves and were as prejudiced against immigrants as they were against people of color. And they wanted to try and create another view of what being an American was that subsumed and took in those impoverished populations. And the third thing they saw and tried very hard, unsuccessfully, to bring about was a system of education in which it would be important for young people to live close to people living in poverty and struggling with disabilities. They didn’t succeed in changing the educational system in the slightest. They did succeed, for a while, in their effort to create a new definition of democracy in America. But it was lost during the Great Depression and temporarily revived in parts of the New Deal but disappeared in the affluence of the 50s.
ANTHONY LEWIS: I’m not sure whether they quite qualify for your requirement of being unknown. Well, they’re not unknown but they’re certainly not up at the top of popular knowledge, and that would be two Supreme Court justices, Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Brandeis came originally from Louisville, Kentucky but much of his life was here in Boston where he really did, like Jane Addams and company, work for the poor and the less advantaged very successfully. Then he was appointed to the Supreme Court, was confirmed after a very severe battle, sparked in considerable part by anti-Semitism -- the resistance, I mean -- and made an enormous difference in the translation of the Supreme Court from its bad old days to a more enlightened view of freedom.
And Holmes, the one true poet we had on the Supreme Court, who -- well, I’ll quote as best I can from memory one opinion of his that will indicate why I feel as I do about him. The case was called United States against Schwimmer. Rosika Schwimmer was a woman who came from Hungary to this country as an immigrant, and she loved the United States and wanted to become a citizen, but she couldn’t, because at that time the citizenship formula required you to swear that you would take up arms in defense of the country and she was a pacifist, so she wouldn’t swear that. So she sued and the case went up to the Supreme Court, and she lost. Holmes dissented, and he wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said he didn’t agree with her views about war, and he had a very passionate feeling about war. He had fought in the Civil War. Now, we’re talking, this case was decided in 1930, roughly. He fought in the Civil War and was wounded three times, gravely, but he believed in war and in fact, after he died, they found hanging in his closet his Civil War Union Army uniform. But he said, “If there’s any principle of the Constitution that requires adherence more than any other, it is freedom of thought, not freedom for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate. And reverting to the opinion that keeps this petitioner from her citizenship, the Quakers have done their part in making this country what it is, and I had not thought before now that we regretted our inability to expel them, because they believed more than the rest of us in the Sermon on the Mount.”
SCOTT SIMON: As we invite people to step up to the microphones and ask questions. I’m actually going to have the temerity to offer a name myself, which is Jackie Robinson who could have played here in Boston. You know, he had a tryout here five months before he was signed by Brooklyn. Next month will be the 60th anniversary of his arrival in the major leagues, and I was struck over this past weekend as there was the re-enactment of the march across the bridge in Selma, how many of those -- what we think of as the original civil rights marchers in the 1960s -- said they had it in their mind and their heart when they very bravely walked across a bridge the scene of Jackie Robinson walking out into the field when he integrated Major League Baseball and having to put up with the boos and the catcalls and actual physical intimidation. So I’m going to add Jackie Robinson to that list.
We want to invite your questions. Did you want to ask a question, sir? Please, stand. And I might take the license to repeat them for our folks up here.
Q: This question is for any of the panelists who have the courage to deal with it. It’s my impression that in the 20th century a news story, such as the one that I’m saying is not being covered and in which there is a blackout, it seems, in the media, would have been handled quite differently, and that is the fact that the Republican Party now owns most of the voting machines and that there is no accountability about this. The rest of us are supposed to believe in their fairness and decency. I don’t see this very crucial, very fundamental pivotal point addressed in the media anywhere and at any time. There is compelling evidence that Ohio was won by George Bush due to Republican election machine fraud, and why is this never dealt with? That’s my question.
SCOTT SIMON: The Diebold Corporation, I’m not sure they’re owned by the Republican Party. I think a number of investors have also contributed money to the Republican Party, but I don’t mean to pre-empt your question. Is there anybody who had a …
JILL KER CONWAY: I just wanted to comment that I have indeed read two pieces on the question of the ownership of the voting machines in print media over the past couple of weeks, so I do believe it is being reported, though not as Republican ownership of the machines, but influence over the makers of them.
Q: I’d just like to comment that anyone who differentiates between Diebold and the Republican Party is under a delusion.
SCOTT SIMON: Yes, sir.
Q: Thank you. I have a question I think that, by its very nature, may go most directly to Mr. Schorr, but certainly I welcome input from anyone, and that is this -- and I don’t want Mr. Lewis to run away with the idea that he has made me feel negative today -- I came feeling that way because I live in America today. But my question is, you know, what used to be called the fourth branch of government, the press, I’ve heard some pessimism of where we are, so what if anything can be done to move the press in a direction where there is still some semblance of investigative journalism, with all due respect to people on the panel. But I just don’t see the generation after you, Mr. Schorr, that I grew up with, the people who were your peers and colleagues over the years. And to me, you represent the last of that line, which is primarily what brought me here today. What can we do to turn investigative journalism around and get people’s attention about what they need to think about in this country, public affairs.
DANIEL SCHORR: I don’t want to be entirely negative, so let me say this was a good week for me to hear that question. Had it been last week, I would have been stumped for an answer, but this week there is one answer: Walter Reed Hospital. Walter Reed. Investigative journalism still lives. It’s not everywhere, it’s not all the time, but as I look from the promontory of 90 years down on the younger people today, there is still investigative reporting. Don’t lose hope.
ANTHONY LEWIS: I’d just say I agree with Dan. I said earlier in my remarks that the press had slumbered after 9/11 for about three years; it really did slumber. But it came out of that slumber, I think, with the New York Times’ reporting on the secret order from President Bush to the National Security Agency to tape our telephones without, in direct violation of a criminal statute -- shocking to me -- and the Washington Post reporting on the secret CIA prisons overseas. I think both of those were exemplary examples of investigative reporting to which, of course, we would now add what Dan said, Walter Reed, so I don’t think it’s dead.
SCOTT SIMON: Let me just follow up, lest we have a reverie of times gone by. Wasn’t it always a bit of a challenge to get good investigative reporting done? I mean, I don’t recall hearing any stories about major publishers or heads of networks saying oh, a major investigative piece that threatens established powers and our advertisers? Go to it! I mean, hasn’t it always been a bit of a battle? Or wasn’t it always?
DANIEL SCHORR: Now and then you’ll find a case. In Indianapolis, the United Fruit Company -- this goes several years but I’m digging for it. You know the United Fruit story that the reporter was working on, he was told to stop working on it because the United Fruit Company threatened them with some kind of suit. We still see the marvelous examples of what happens, mainly with big newspapers, mainly with big newspapers. I don’t think it’s necessarily what you get countrywide. I do think that in local television stations more often than not, I haven’t heard them very often, but I get the results of that. Very often or not you get a news director saying the thing you want to investigate, how much will it cost us, how many days will you have to spend doing it? Well, maybe three, four, five. We can’t afford that kind of thing. Again, there is an awful lot of that today.
SCOTT SIMON: When you were at the Times, Tony, maybe in your younger days at the Times, wasn’t it a great journalist, Scotty Reston, who had the Bay of Pigs Invasion story and didn’t run it, because he was asked not to by the government?
ANTHONY LEWIS: It’s more complicated than that. But both Cuban stories -- it was Tad Schultz, the Times reporter who learned about the Bay of Pigs invasion, that it was going to happen, and he wrote a story pinpointing the date, lots of detail, and President Kennedy called the Chief of the Washington Bureau, Scotty Reston, and said please don’t run this story, and Reston told him to call the publisher, Orville Dreyfus in New York. Eventually the story ran, but was toned down somewhat and moved down from the top of page one to the bottom of page one. Well, six months later Orville Dreyfus, the publisher, was at a White House reception and President Kennedy said, “I wish you’d run that story the way it was the first time.” Because of course if we had, there wouldn’t have been any Bay of Pigs invasion.
And then the second, I was there, not on that occasion, but I was party to the second story, which was the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Reston was the person who learned about it. He was asked by the President not to run the story because it would spoil what he planned, which was a television address to the nation the next night. And in the end, the Times agreed to hold the story. I think it was right to hold the story.
Q: My question is for Jill Ker Conway. I am interested in your reflections, having a toe, perhaps, still in Australia and living in this country, on what’s happening in the two countries and differences and similarities that you would see between the two countries. And my second question is what are you writing now?
JILL KER CONWAY: Well, first of all, it’s important for people to understand when thinking about Australia and the United States, that they have very similar themes in their history. They are vast land masses settled by a migration of people, dispossessing an indigenous population. And the great difference between Australia and the United States is that Australia has no Mississippi, Ohio, any of the great rivers that were the internal communications of this continent. If you try to imagine how the United States would have been settled without that transportation system, it’s an interesting problem. And, of course, the center of the land mass is arid and a very, very fragile environment.
But Australians are every bit as proud of their Australianness, every bit as chauvinistic, in fact, about distinguishing themselves from other people, very proud of a democracy which has many of the problems that we see today, and, of course, apropos of what Tony was just saying, there has been as a result of migration to Australia of people claiming political asylum, a tremendous abuse of the law. Australia keeps immigrants who have come seeking asylum in concentration camps in the center of Australia. Many families have been there five, six, seven years, children have been born there. So there is the same kind of abuse of the legal system that we’ve seen going on here.
The major difference, I think, is that Australia, having no way of fostering family migration and settlement of a farming population which peopled the North American continent, had to rely on government for many things: the railroads, telephones, these were all state monopolies. And the state today is still the largest employer of Australians. So the ability to create wealth as a family recently arrived from your own labor was much limited, and the land was occupied by very large land grants for pastoral purposes. So, thus, it has a kind of tough agrarian mystique, but it’s of dispossessed people who couldn’t own things and are kept poor by the monopolizing of land and so forth. And that has given Australia its radical political tradition. The longest ruling party since confederation has been the Labor Party, and so on. So that’s the major, major difference, and it’s an economic and geographic one.
To my horror, the Australian political mentality is going exactly in the same direction as the United States. President Bush’s single proudest backslapper is the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and unfortunately, there is popular support for his treatment of immigrants because Australians are in many senses still racist in attitudes to people with dark skins, people who come from central Asia, people who have different religions, and so on. That’s because it’s been an isolated continent with little contact for many people with the outside world until relatively recently. So there are many, many similarities. And, of course, Australians will never forget that they were rescued from occupation by the Japanese in the 1939-45 war by the Americans, and no Australian Prime Minister probably would last very long who really roughed up a U.S. President. They are a principle source of defense.
If you look for a democracy that’s different, it’s Canada. Canada has this huge neighbor from which it must always differentiate itself so that its political system, its values, and its codes are in many ways formed out of setting themselves off from the United States, and Canadian commitment to peace and so forth also is geographic. If you lived between the United States and the Soviet Union through the Cold War, you need to be a pacifist, because you’re going to be killed anyway if either side starts fighting. So if you’re looking for a democracy that’s a counterpoint to the United States, look to the north, to Canada, and maybe to New Zealand, which is similar.
What am I writing now? I’m writing a book about aging. I’m 73. I’m constantly astonished by the people who say to me, when I see them, you don’t look your age, and I know perfectly well that I do. So I’m interested in what it is they’re saying to me. And I’m interested in the history of how we came to define a population over 60 or 65 or whatever it is as unproductive because of the development of the modern pension system. Bismarck created the pension system in the unification of Germany in order to wed the population to the new German state. Pensions went to citizens who were over 60 but people’s life expectancy was 58, so it wasn’t a big commitment. But it is in Germany at that time that people about 60 were defined as non-productive. And now, we listen constantly to what are supposed problems of Social Security which I think are fake, and the worry about having a small population engaged in productive work and this huge mass of baby boomers who are going to be apparently non-productive. You have Daniel here who is 90, still working hard, and Tony who is 80, still working hard, and so am I, and I think it’s necessary to change people’s definition of this age cohort, and that’s what I’m writing about.
SCOTT SIMON: Let me chance a modest follow-up question about Australia, on the offhand chance that the answer may imply something. Why is it over, it seems to me, the past 20 years when so many film directors want to cast a role as a quintessential American, they wind up choosing an Australian actor?
JILL KER CONWAY: Why does that happen? It is because the stereotype of the Australian male, which Australian film actors often embody -- and I’m naming no names -- but is one that fits with a certain kind of Hollywood movie, the definition of maleness. If you wanted somebody tormented or filled with existential angst, you wouldn’t choose an Australian actor.
Q: Forgive me for this, but I’m wondering if it doesn’t happen in the next two years, I wonder how long it will be before some future panel of our congressional leaders today will be lamenting the failure to bring an article of impeachment against President Bush without embarrassment. How long do you think this will take before we can talk about a failure to bring that article?
ANTHONY LEWIS: I can go ahead, not that I have a very useful answer. Impeachment is not a political reality when you have, just to take the fact that the Senate is almost equally divided between the parties. And the answer to your question, which is a perfectly legitimate question, let’s deal with it just in terms of Iraq, that’s what it’s really about. If things continue to go downhill in Iraq, and they’re not corrected by congressional pressure or some other deus ex machina, then there will be regrets of a kind that you’re talking about. I don’t know if it will be a specific regret about impeachment, which, as I say, is not politically on right now, but there will be a sense of how did we allow this to happen? How did it go on? The war has gone on longer than World War II now, or as long as. It’s simply mad from my point of view. How can we be fighting this war endlessly with no results? I just really don’t understand it, and lots of other people don’t, and there will be very severe regrets unless somehow it’s cured.
Q: I wanted to ask the panel in general -- you asked for people in the 20th century who were perhaps overlooked, but I’d like to ask, from a leadership standpoint, what missed opportunities you look back and see in the 20th century. I mean, I think of people like Henry A. Wallace maybe, or I don’t know. I’d like to hear the panel think of leaders that they knew or knew about or were around and view as a missed opportunity.
SCOTT SIMON: Like the Red Sox not signing Jackie Robinson.
Q: That’s a good one!
SCOTT SIMON: I ran the numbers once. You know, they finished second or third in the seven years that they declined to sign him. You have to think that they would have won at least a couple more pennants if they’d signed Jackie Robinson, but I … missed opportunities in the 20th century. Jill?
JILL KER CONWAY: I’ll talk about one. I think that the efforts during the New Deal to create a variety of different corps of unemployed workers -- young people, artists, musicians, painters, dramatists -- was a kind of government sponsorship of the arts, of melding together a population to be involved in the country as opposed to their particular region, and that they provided an experience that was more than just economic. And when I worked -- I did work now on the problems of inner city schools, school dropouts and so on. I wish that we had some noble notion of how those young people could be employed, educated, pulled out of the situation where they live. That’s a missed opportunity, I think.
DANIEL SCHORR: Let me just add, although it may sound partisan, the difficulty with trying to figure out what to say about missed opportunities is that the fact that they’ve been missed means, in many cases, you don’t know that they were there. For example, one opportunity this country missed in a large part of the past 20, 30 years is not setting out to make sure that there are no hungry children, or that there be schooling, that, how do we know what was missed? You have a sense that we’ve missed an awful lot.
Q: This is a question for the whole panel, in which I will preface it by saying I believe deeply in our country and have great hope to be able to continue to be optimistic that we have a future, but I have been intrigued since the beginning of this conversation that it has never once been mentioned that perhaps part of the great fear and the lack of a solid citizenship feeling that they can do anything is the introduction of the use of atomic warfare, the fact that we were the first nation to drop an atomic bomb, and that the greatest fear, I do believe, that overshadows -- I’m a teacher and I teach young people -- that overshadows everyone’s mind is this tremendous threat, worry, and possibility which often turns into a belief in probability of the use of atomic weaponry, ourselves included.
SCOTT SIMON: Let me try and turn the question just a little bit in that it seemed towards the end of the 20th century, late 80s, early 90s, that the threat of mutual annihilation between the United States and Western Europe and the Soviet Union and Eastern satellite countries, you’d never want to say it was over, but it seemed to be greatly diminished. And now it would seem to be that perhaps the greater fear in the minds of many people around the world is the possibility of an individual device being set off. Anybody have any thoughts about the atomic, now I guess it would not necessarily be just atomic, but nuclear and cobalt specter?
ANTHONY LEWIS: I think the question is a very good question, because we’re not at the stage of fear that gripped this country in -- I forget what the exact dates were -- but there was a time when we were told to dig shelters in the basement and all that. But it’s a reality that there’s reason to fear, and what are the reasons? I think a prime reason is that the great nuclear powers, the United States, Britain, France, Israel -- did I leave out Russia? Yes, Russia -- have not done, well not Israel, but the United States, Britain and Russia promised in the non-proliferation treaty that they would reduce their nuclear arms down to zero. They’ve done nothing of the kind. And as long as this huge weaponry, absolutely overkill weaponry, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these weapons exist, it’s hard psychologically to say that Iran should not be able to build weapons, and it’s hard to get together to stop Osama bin Laden or some other person from having those weapons. Which leads me to say that the question is really, how can we get the world to act together on this? We’re in a time which is different from an earlier period when -- the one that Jill spoke of as she sat listening to the radio in Coorain -- when we thought there was hope in international accord, for international action, for people and countries working together. Now we’re in a unilateral phase when the United States just goes off on its own, when the United States is so dominant a power it has -- I read this in a manuscript the other day -- 700 military bases in 60 countries around the world. It’s just staggering. And we don’t want to pay attention to these other folks. We don’t put collaboration at the top of our list of musts, and you’re not going to be able to deal with the problem you’re talking about until there is collaboration.
DANIEL SCHORR: Not directly responsive to that question, but going back to the overarching theme of this meeting tonight, which has to do with centuries and what happens between centuries. And in thinking about it, it occurred to me that the 19th century was, on the whole, a century of consolidation. There were principalities, there were duchies that came together and they gave us Italy, they gave us Germany, and they gave us [inaudible] and then finally, they gave us a United Nations where, thanks to the United States and the Soviet Union, it was hoped that they would help to police the world.
Well, we’re now in, at least in the latter part of this century, the last century, we’re in an era of disintegration. Countries that were countries are falling apart. Yugoslavia is now, how many countries? Everywhere you look is, we can solve this by partitioning and making a larger thing into a smaller thing. I don’t know if that’s good or not, but I do have a feeling that this country was better off when it was headed toward some kind of union instead of disintegrated into small pieces.
Q: The panel tonight was styled as reflections on the 20th century and, unlike some of our panelists, I’ve only gotten to experience about half of that century, but as I think back on that half century, and I think about 45 years since President Kennedy’s assassination, and I sort of look at the current situation, I say, what would he find most astonishing about what has happened in that 45 years? And I would point to two things in order to ask the question. The first is -- and I may have my facts wrong -- but it’s my impression, having grown up in that period, that the percentage of bright graduates of leading institutions who are interested in careers in public service has absolutely plummeted in the course of 45 years. And the second reflection I have, that what’s really different today from 1963 is the gap in this country, let alone around the world, between the rich and the poor is at a level which is absolutely astounding, and the lack of public discourse or action to do anything about that during my lifetime is absolutely astonishing.
I wonder -- and my question for the panel is -- is this something that will turn around or is this a permanent feature of the American landscape, where people just are satisfied with their ability in a winner-take-all system to make a lot of money and be insulated from that at high levels of public office or will that change, will there be a backlash?
JILL KER CONWAY: Well, I’ll have a go at that. It’s certainly true that the number of college graduates interested in joining government service is at a low point at the moment. It is quite similar to what it was in the 1950s, and it is actually President Kennedy’s call to young Americans to build a better society that changed that and brought a great flood of talented young people to Washington. I believe that the appeal of working for the U.S. government will reassert itself as soon as the young see that there’s something that relates to their ideals and beliefs that they could realize through public service.
You should know that throughout the 19th century it was thought of as really quite strange for anybody of means and education to want to work in government. Theodore Roosevelt was an absolute maverick to everybody who knew him when he decided to become Police Commissioner of New York and eventually to run for the presidency. So it’s a very common theme in American history, with periods of big involvement as occurred during the New Deal and in the Kennedy era.
About the gap between rich and poor, again, this is a global phenomenon; it’s not just the United States. It’s happening in most modernized societies and, of course, it’s always existed in what we call the low income unmodernized societies. So absent some major economic crisis, like the Great Depression, which led to very serious efforts to try and rebalance the distribution of wealth, I don’t see what’s going to change it, because it’s actually a long term trend which is being interrupted at various points as a result of economic disaster.
SCOTT SIMON: I should point out, we had a story on our program recently where some economists expressed the view that one of the biggest contributors, at least in western society -- sounds like a very unpopular thing to say -- towards fostering greater economic inequality is the expansion of the workforce, so that rich people are marrying rich people now. And a couple of generations ago, you tended to marry between economic classes, and now, as I perhaps don’t need to say at the Kennedy Library, Harvard grads are marrying and having families with MIT grads. Very highly trained engineers, President Sommers.
Let’s just take a couple more questions. Yes sir.
Q: I actually have a relatively simple question, but as someone who only experienced the last quarter of the 20th century and is hoping to experience more than a quarter of the 21st century, I just need to ask -- and I think this is to everyone, but in particular to you, Dan Schorr -- if there’s any mitigating factor to your pessimism, if there’s anything that gives you a little glimmer of hope? And sort of related to that, given all of your profound and intimate knowledge of history and experience of history, to what extent do you believe history to be somewhat cyclical? Would this conversation be the same if it was taking place ten years ago, and would it be the same ten years from now?
SCOTT SIMON: Help me out here. What gives people on the panel a glimmer of hope, or more than a glimmer of hope, and an expanding sense of history: are they saying the same things here tonight that they might have been ten years ago and ten years from now. Dan, when you’re back here, when you’re 100, what do you see on the horizon that gives you cause for hope right now, and how do you think your answers might be different in ten years? That’s probably not stating it well.
Q: Or to what extent do you believe history to be cyclical, and are we just at a very bad point right now?
SCOTT SIMON: To what extent is history cyclical and we just happen to be at a certain time now, and ten years from now it’ll look different.
DANIEL SCHORR: Would you think less of me if I say I don’t know?
SCOTT SIMON: I have to tell you, this is a very rare moment. I almost want to mark the position of the planets. A journalist who doesn’t know? That’s treason!
ANTHONY LEWIS: Well, I’d just say yes, I think there’s hope in the system … [inaudible]
JILL KER CONWAY: I can say something which might cheer everyone up. If I think of the quality of leadership of this country from the end of the Civil War to the election of Theodore Roosevelt, it was a series of non-entities, people who were absolutely in the pockets of various kinds of large economic interests, people of undistinguished minds and little command of language. So I wouldn’t think that you should be too worried about what we experience today, because it has changed in the past, and I’m sure it will again.
The second thing I’d like to say is I spend a lot time these days around the philanthropic world, and I’m very impressed by the groups of young people, mainly very highly educated engineers and people with strong finance backgrounds, who are calling themselves New Entrepreneurs. And they want to make money by doing good. And they are trying to invent new styles and modes of business which will produce profit and create wealth but which will solve social problems. They’re a small movement at the moment, but I think they will grow larger, and so that gives me a lot of hope.
SCOTT SIMON: Let me ask our host here, because I know we also have some broadcast times to hit. We’ve got some people lined up: can we take a couple more questions? Sir, you are so gracious. If you want to approach the panel later after sitting down, and ask your question when we’re off the air, by all means. Yes m’am.
Q: I have a question for you, Jill Ker Conway. I’ve read your biography and that of Sandra Day O’Connor. I was very struck by the similarity of the rural ranch isolated life. One, have you met her and talked? And two, do you see that background in any other women leaders?
JILL KER CONWAY: First of all, yes, I do know Sandra Day O’Connor. In fact, we corresponded with one another when she was working on her memoir. There is a great deal of similarity in our backgrounds, and the experience of being a girl growing up in that kind of male world and having to hold your own in it and be as tough as everybody else is an excellent training for life. It’s hard to create it for many women because we can’t duplicate the circumstances.
I think that the other question raised by your query is what are the backgrounds that produce women leaders? What gets them started? And there are four basic things. One is loss of a male relative. A big surge in women’s activism after 1914-18 came for women who had lost fathers or brothers or lovers in the war. And they were living for that person, so they felt entitled to break the rules about being female. The second thing is highly developed intellect at an early age, so that the child gets absolutely obsessed by some subject and doesn’t hear the messages of the society that maybe that’s not something she should be doing. The third thing is the availability of new options. The 20 million dead in the Soviet Union during the Second World War created opportunities for women engineers, women doctors, women lawyers, and so forth, that had never existed before, and it’s part of that change in the workforce and demography of the Soviet Union. And finally, the fourth thing is experiencing great adversity, disruption of family life in some way or another in childhood, so that early the message comes that you gotta do it on your own. So it’s not just in ranching country. There are many kinds of adversity situations where you learn to get mobilized and do things.
Q: I was wondering about, as a person of my age, I guess I’m following suit, I am less than any of the other questioners, Mr. Simon and Mr. Schorr brought up two ideas that are all-important and inescapable for my generation: movies and television. I was wondering about all of your ideas on the impact, not only upon the degradation, perhaps, of our language in America from the use of television, but also on the impact of our citizenry or those things on our ability to be capable citizens, as well as on, perhaps, the arts and humor, which I think humor has been a motif throughout this whole panel, as well as humor being part of that mastery of language which Ms. Conway noted.
SCOTT SIMON: Dan, do you think because of television and perhaps other sources and influence that gathered steam at any rate in the 20th century, or in the case of television, obviously, invented in the 20th century, there has been a degradation in the quality or diminution at any rate in the quality of our language?
DANIEL SCHORR: I hadn’t thought of that. I have nothing to tell you. I’m not sure, I haven’t studied that. One could argue the other way: that you have television on all the time and children are growing up in a living room with television on, that they’re learning words, perhaps. I think I better stop while I’m behind. [laughter]
SCOTT SIMON: You know one thing that I understand from people who’ve [inaudible] over the years that didn’t happen. There were a lot of people who predicted in the 1920s with the rise of radio and then continuing on to television that we would lose our regional accents, and that hasn’t happened, for one reason or another.
JILL KER CONWAY: I should say that because I teach college students and graduate students that we do see there a real decline in people’s grasp of just the basic structures of language: syntax, logic, so on, and a much circumscribed vocabulary. But by creating writing centers, finding new ways to teach people ways to acquire those rules and deploy them effectively, it’s usually possible to correct by the time people get into graduate school. So when I read the papers of my graduate students, I’m blown away by their language and their grasp of syntax and logic and so on. But looking at a freshman paper is always a little occasion for being downcast.
Q: I have to ask again, though, the impact on being citizens, responsible and capable citizens, what is the impact of those media on that?
JILL KER CONWAY: I would just say that the people I teach feel citizens of the world, the most important thing for them is the environment. They don’t look to the U.S. government to help deal with that. They think of that as a global movement that they must be part of. So they’re citizens in a different way.
ANTHONY LEWIS: I must echo that in a word, if I may, just to say that I’ve done teaching, I’ve taught as an avocation for many years part time, and I think the students are wonderful, better than ever, and so I’m very optimistic. If I look at students, it makes me feel happy.
SCOTT SIMON: We have to leave you. Thank you very much for your kind attention. It’s been an honor to be here as part of this panel. Thank you very much.